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Indian J Anaesth. 2011 Nov;55(6):556-62. doi: 10.4103/0019-5049.90608.

Chirality and anaesthetic drugs: A review and an update.

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  • 1Departments of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh, India.


Many molecules can exist as right-handed and left-handed forms that are non-superimposable mirror images of each other. They are known as enantiomers or substances of opposite shape. Such compounds are also said to be chiral (Greek chiros meaning 'hand'). Such chiral molecules are of great relevance to anaesthetic theory and practice. This review summarizes the basic concepts, pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic aspects of chirality, and some specific examples of their application in anaesthesia, along with recent advances to elucidate the anaesthetic mechanisms. Chirality is relevant to anaesthesia, simply because more than half of the synthetic agents used in anaesthesia practice are chiral drugs. Almost all these synthetic chiral drugs are administered as racemic mixture, rather than as single pure enantiomers. These mixtures are not drug formulations containing two or more therapeutic substances, but combination of isomeric substances, with the therapeutic activity residing mainly in one of the enantiomer. The other enantiomer can have undesirable properties, have different therapeutic activities or be pharmacologically inert. Specific examples of application of chirality in anaesthetic drugs include inhalational general anaesthetics (e.g. isoflurane), intravenous anaesthetics (e.g. etomidate, thiopentone), neuromuscular blocking agents (e.g. cisatracurium), local anaesthetics (e.g. ropivacaine and levobupivacaine) and other agents (e.g. levosimendan, dexmedetomidine, L-cysteine). In the recent advances, chirality study has not only helped new drug development as mentioned above, but has also contributed in a more profound way to the understanding of the mechanism of anaesthesia and anaesthetic drugs.


Anaesthesia; anaesthetic drugs; chirality; enantiomers

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